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Big Money And ESPN Warps High School Sports


      Wondering about the larger implications of ESPN’s incursion into high school sports – the St. Thomas Aquinas prep school in Fort Lauderdale will be making its second appearance on national television Friday -- Sociologist and social critic D. Stanley Eitzen of Colorado State sent me an e-mail with far more information than I could fold into a column. Eitzen has written extensively on the sociology of modern sports. His books include Fair and Foul: Beyond the Myths And Paradoxes of Sport, Sport In Contemporary Socity and a collaboration with George H. Sage, Sociology Of North American Sport.

      Eitzen wrote:

      There are at least 5 indicators that high school sport is moving in the
wrong direction (i.e., away from its place in education)  and toward the
big-time college model.

1.  Some schools are resembling sports programs in big-time universities by selling naming rights to stadiums and arenas, hiring coaches for salaries
far exceeding those of teachers, selling personal seat licenses, spending huge amounts on their football and basketball programs (both male, by the way), and spending in an "arms race" on facilities.

2.  The existence of fraudulent "prep schools" that exist basically to inflate transcripts of those who are marginal students but excellent athletes.


3.  The combined effect of increased exposure and commercialization. Instead of competing against lleague rivals, there is, as you note, competition nationally.  Some schools participate in national basketball tournaments in Hawaii, Florida, Las Vegas, and elsewhere far from home.  For example, Oak Hill Academy in 2006 traveled 13,600 miles for basketball games. These events are sponsored by corporations.  Media attention (USA Today, SportsChannel, Fox Sports Net, and ESPN) is national in scope.  Nike, Reebok, and Adidas pay some of the top coaches for helping steer their athletes to colleges that are "Nike schools" or "Reebok" schools.

4.  Top athletes are given very special treatment in attention, grades, recruiting, being "redshirted," etc.

5.  The intense recruitment by colleges of these elite high school athletes (e.g., being offered a college scholarship while an 8th grader), has detrimental effects.  It inflates egos, and gets in the way of their education.  It also tends tto make them cynical about education because of the sometimes sleazy aspects of recruiting.  Most significant, these athletes are on the market. As such, they ultimately will be purchased by a university athletic department and they will be treated as commodities.

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